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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 31, 2011 1:46am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

I agree that Latvala was ahead of the curve in many ways -but he was often a more enthusiastic than critical listener - he did have a strange fondness for '78 shows. And even when he was critical, I also find many of his show opinions pretty strange. That goes with the territory, though.
At least he was opinionated. It's also my impression that the folks since then in charge of releasing & writing up the music are, by an inevitable process of selection, in the "it's all good" camp, & rarely seem to dislike anything....it's a bit sad to see relatively average later shows marketed with the same hype as the really great stuff. Not a big issue, though. The late-era fans need a few crumbs thrown their way! :)

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Poster: clementinescaboose Date: Jul 31, 2011 11:50pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

I will never for the life of me understand his aversion to 8/27/72. One reason I can't respect him fully.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 31, 2011 3:40am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

My guess is that Latvala had a fondness for 78 shows because he went to a lot of shows in 1978. At the end of his review of 10/21/78 in my Deadbase 8 he says, "I spent the next hour running around Winterland, feeling I had just witnessed the greatest show ever done." I would guess that 78 was an important year for his experience of the band, and as a result that year's sound and style got imprinted on his tastes. Even though I think Dick did a pretty good job on selecting his releases, I'm not a 78 fan myself, it's actually close to the bottom in my taste.

I've seen many complaints about over-praise for later era shows in the release liner notes etc, but I have to say I think it is completely absurd to expect a corporate entity trying to sell a product to offer an unbiased artistic appraisal of what they are selling. I know you and the others who make those statements aren't actually naive about this, but it still seems akin to expecting that "gourmet restaurant quality" on the packaging for a frozen pizza can be taken literally!

More than that, I'm also pretty extreme on the continuum of how good I think the Grateful Dead were, in absolute terms in comparison to other rock bands. I have no hesitation in saying that even if everything the band ever recorded vanished apart from ten random shows from 1983, the Grateful Dead would still be the best live rock band in history, easily. The fact that any random show from 1972 is better than the best show from 1983 doesn't change the fact that in comparison to other rock music, the Grateful Dead were on an entirely different musical plane for their entire career.

The Grateful Dead were climbing musical mountains for their entire career, in comparison to the small hills that are where most popular music lives. To resort to my conventional classical analogies - The GD at their best were on the level of Beethoven and Bach, in their weaker years it was more like Tchaikovsky or Vivaldi, but there is still a big gap in quality between Tchaikovsky and the vastly more limited artistic range of popular music.

I'm not sure I've ever really clearly articulated my perspective about these things in a way that is comprehensible. It's hard to do so in a way that doesn't sound like I'm trying to tear down the artistic value of music which I love. A four minute verse-chorus song can be a completely perfect work of art, but Mozart's Don Giovanni is on a higher artistic plane. That isn't a criticism of the simple song, because it has a different artistic context and goal.

At some point I'm going to try to write a really in-depth essay about musical style and the 30 year history of the GD, because I think the way we usually frame things (68-74 Golden Age vs. the weaker post-hiatus years) actually encapsulates a lot of different aesthetic dichotomies. I completely agree those years are of higher quality, but I have come to realize my reasons for preferring them are different than those expressed by many.

I think many listeners prefer that era because the quality of the rock & roll elements in the band is at its height - during those years, the GD can go toe-to-toe with other "classic rock" in terms of a tight, energetic sound. I think for many, if the "rock elements" in the music aren't present, it sounds bad to them. I think these listeners appreciate other elements in the music also, but if the rock foundation isn't solid, the whole thing collapses, from their perspective. As a result, the fact that the GD sound and feel became increasingly divorced from traditional rock and roll makes the band sound "worse and worse" as the years progressed.

I hear the superiority of the 68-74 era as inherent in the interplay of the instruments and the groupmind, and this element also became weaker in the music subsequently, but I believe it declined less than the "classic rock feel" declined. There is also the purely compositional aspect, and I think the compositional peak of the band was later than the performance peak. "Blues for Allah" and "Terrapin Station" have what I think of as the best composed music the band ever created, so a lot of the best-written songs aren't even performed during the band's best years! In fact, there is a legitimate tension between composition and improvisation, and one of the ironies of the band's career is that they never quite seemed to realize that.

Well, this got a lot longer than I expected, but let me bring it around to the conclusion - the comments on the later-era releases are only overly positive when viewed in relation to the band's other releases. There is nothing wrong with labeling a random 82 or 88 show release as a "spectacular performance" within the grand scheme of music on the planet Earth, it IS a spectacular performance of spectacular music.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 31, 2011 10:50am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

Latvala did go to a bunch of shows in 1978 - he also said that 12/31/78 was the greatest night ever - but the strange thing is, the time he went to the most Dead shows was 1966-68, when he attended regularly. So you'd think 1978 would not seem like such a pinnacle in comparison! Latvala lived in the moment, though.

I wasn't really lamenting blurbs or liner note comments for later shows, which are not a big deal - really just saying that it's natural that writers who work for the Dead would, by the nature of things, not be very critical of many shows. In that sense, Latvala was more of an anomaly.
I also agree he made a lot of good Picks, and if weren't for having to be "representative" or pick just the highest-quality shows, he'd certainly have an even higher success rate, though within a narrower year range.

Anyway, you're often saying that someday you'll write a long post on X, Y, or Z topics.... Someday I'll hold you to account and list out all the things you said you'd write about!

I'm not sure about your theory, though, so will have to await further explication. It was my impression that later shows (such as, say, 4/6/82 or 4/1/88) had MORE "classic rock" elements than shows in the mid-'70s, aside from the drums>space segements or a few jam tunes.
In those terms, I think there's actually a big division within the "Golden Age"...68-71 has a lot of that rock sound you mention, but the 72-74 band is much calmer & mellower, with more of a "country-rock" vibe (and mostly lacking both Pigpen & Mickey), which is one reason I suspect that phase is the most popular.
'77 seems to me to be the year when the Dead consciously returned to more of a tighter rock format, a process that escalated considerably in '78, and was aided by the addition of Brent (a classic-rock guy to his core). And I think tonally, the instrument sound becomes much more "rock-ish" in the '80s, to generalize.
But by '79 there's also a creeping-in of more "weird" elements like drums>space, and often more out-there jams, along with the big song suites that had been there all along. So these elements kind of awkwardly coexist in Dead shows - by the '90s, we have these very elaborate non-rock musical statements that you're into, side-by-side with any number of cheesy standard-rock tunes - like that 3/30/90 space>Miracle you posted about. I'm not sure if the Dead actually favored one side or the other, but embraced both, just as country & psychedelia had been bedpartners in '69-70.

So, while I do think there are a number of tonal & stylistic things that make the later years less appealing for many, I'm not sure it's related to any decline in the "classic-rock" feel. (The hard-rock sound of '68 is, on the wider scale, not even one of the most popular Dead years!) You may be thinking of elements in the music I'm overlooking, like sheer "tightness" or "good singing voices" or whatnot - but it's worth remembering that, for all the diehards like me on this forum, there are many more 1990 fans out there who have no problem with the band's sound that year, and theories must account for them, too!

Anyway, the debate continues!....

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 31, 2011 4:07pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

Lots of good points. This thread has fallen off the "front page" so I won't go into detail, but I will clarify one thing. I wasn't meaning to say the GD stopped trying to play rock and roll, but rather that they become much less successful at doing so in a way that is satisfying to listeners. You mention "I need a miracle" which is a good example, because that song usually sounds more like a parody of rock than anything else to me. Maybe Weir thought he was singing in a high-energy rock and roll fashion, but I don't think he was in any danger of being mistaken for Robert Plant, he usually sounds completely absurd.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 31, 2011 9:56pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

Driven off the front page by the latest social craze! Aack!

I'll just briefly note that many listeners (though not many on this forum) actually favor the later GD years over the "Golden Age," feeling that the earlier Dead (before '72 or '73 or '77 or Brent) just sounds too raw & undeveloped. And I feel that the blatant "rockisms" the Dead sometimes indulged in '80s/90s shows also have their fans....I don't know about Miracle, but certainly something like Deal with its big-rock-guitar-solo generates a lot of enthusiasm.

So take care not to fling lances at "straw men" in your argument - GD music always divides opinions, from whatever year!
Personally I feel that the Dead were NEVER very good at "rock" - though they certainly shuffled, and they definitely excelled at making people dance, the straight rock vocabulary was not their strong suit. As you say, they worked on more subtle levels (the many Chuck Berry covers aside)....

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 1, 2011 4:16am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

Also accurate observations - I think I tend to weight what I regard as "expert opinion" much more heavily than the general opinion. I also believe there has been a substantial shift over time in preferences. There was a time when 5/8/77 was the conventional wisdom for best show ever, and May 77 was regarded as the peak. Some people still make that claim, but in general the opinion of the late 70s has become a lot more critical and earlier years have risen tremendously in esteem.

I think the "test of time" has shown that the sound of the late 60s and early 70s - and this applies to more music than just the GD, more or less the whole field of popular music - has aged a lot better than the sounds of the late 70s and 80s. People now recognize that the sound of tube amps, analog tape mixing, often created a warmth and richness that was lost in the trend toward higher fidelity sound and the dawn of the digital era.

This post was modified by bkidwell on 2011-08-01 11:16:00

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 1, 2011 6:27am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

Of course, the late 60s/early 70s was also the High Rennaisance. Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael all happening at the same time. (Did I just name the ninja turtles?) Sometimes the stars just align artistically.

I doubt many folks listen to late 70s/80s music now for much more than nostalgia value. (Heck, it was hard enough at the time!) But it seems as if there have always been teens rediscovering the greats of the 60s, and while I'm sure percentages are declining, still, kids listening in part to the same music as their parents?!? That's actually pretty amazing. And it seems to be still happening. That era has legs. It's holding up like Miles Davis or, as you like to say, classical music.

I do think technical obsessions are sometimes the "wave of the times" and capture the consciousness and fascination of creative artists in ways that don't always hold up later. Maybe that's part of why 80s music ages worse than late 60s music. It's most definitely happening in movies now with CGI; Avatar won't age terribly well IMO.

Btw, for what it's worth, I agree with LiA that 80s-era GD sounds more rock-n-roll to my ears. Certainly that's true with what they were writing; Alabama Getaway vs Mississippi Half Step? I think that orientation is even reflected in their choice of covers -- rock classics rather than country or folk. Not the only reason for it, but still, that's what they chose with the mindset they had at the time.

This post was modified by AltheaRose on 2011-08-01 13:27:41

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 1, 2011 12:49pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

It is remarkable how the '60s holds up....there was a dividing line in the '50s when "youth music" took over and made everything earlier sound "old" (though there was a little stutter until '63/64 when the real popular renaissance started). For kids today to listen to '60s bands would be like the early Dead listening to Bing Crosby & Paul Whiteman! (Or actually, even older Edison recordings & vaudeville-era bands; but the analogy breaks down because there were barely "popular" recordings 50 years before the '60s.)
Granted, I think rap & hip-hop is much more "in" these days, but classic rock holds its own.... We haven't yet reached another of those dividing lines.

One thing I noticed about the early Dead was how, in their covers, they completely ignored the mainstream music of the '40s-50s, instead taking all their cues from the 'underground' black blues/R&B tradition, and from ancient & half-forgotten jugband & "folk" records. Just part of the process by which early rock bands wiped out the "pop" music of their parents!

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 1, 2011 6:39am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

I can tell I did a poor job trying to talk about classic rock vs. later day GD! One aspect of that is that I regard country rock, folk rock, etc, as a sub-genre of the "classic rock" sound. This is purely semantic - I can certainly tell that Jimi Hendrix and Crosby Stills and Nash have very different styles, but I would still put them in the "classic rock" category which includes most of the famous names from 65-75.

I think both you and LIA think of "classic rock" as labeling mostly the heavier guitar, more blues oriented sound - maybe that usage is more standard than my own tendency to use labels rather loosely.

More crucially, though, I wasn't trying to say that the later GD stopped trying to be a rock band - just that they became much worse at delivering the rock sound in a satisfying way, but other aspects of their musicality didn't fall off as much. It's obviously not black-and-white, and perhaps the vocabulary isn't precise enough to let me communicate the aspects of the band's sound I have playing in my mind's ear.

In later era GD, the way the guitar tones sit on top of the "steam powered clockwork" rhythm section makes everything sound much more internally divergent than the unified and solid sound of classic rock of all genres. It's true this kind of contrapuntal texture also exists in the Wall of Sound era especially in jams, but Billy K's fluidity and flow in his solo years does a lot to synthesize the sound into perceptual unity.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 1, 2011 12:27pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

Makes you wonder where the critical consensus will be in 20 years....insofar as there's ever a "consensus" on the Dead.
Maybe new trends will arise that'll change the way people hear these things...

Anything sounds better than the '80s. That was easily the worst period for mainstream rock music....just ghastly!

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Poster: rastamon Date: Aug 1, 2011 12:33pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

from late 70's disco to the 80's HairBands...(tho i did like Come sail away) The GD had the best live music for that decade

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Poster: vapors Date: Jul 31, 2011 8:55pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

In reference to something LiA wrote elsewhere, I think it is rather sad that anyone casually perusing the internet in search of refreshing and vital GD discussion who happens upon here at one point in time – and that being a point when all is seemingly consumed by superfluous drivel – would be turned away and potentially miss the ‘front page news.’

But you guys, archived here, (and in the midst of the fray) you are forever leading the troops home, never flinching from your prescribed duty; to illuminate the overwhelming Grateness.

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Jul 31, 2011 9:23pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

I hadn't even seen that this thread continued. Interesting discussion while the tornado was raging. I'm sure a lot of the points will come up later, too ... along with the tornado (sigh) ... but this environment is certainly more pleasant.

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Poster: clementinescaboose Date: Aug 1, 2011 12:14am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: long-term listening strategies

We're finally not in Kansas anymore AR, thanks to you guys for this excellent and intelligent discussion. THIS is what we all come here for, not the nonsense that's been going on lately!